Meeting the Needs of Pet Owners

We recently sat down Kevin Fick, CEO of Worldwise, to talk about the company’s new offerings and its focus on eco-friendly products.

Q: Worldwise has been a big player in the pet industry for many years. Can you tell us a little about how they started out?

Fick: Worldwise was founded in 1990 with the goal of making environmentally responsible products that are smart, attractive, innovative, affordable and accessible to everyone. We began developing products for a variety of industries, such as lawn and garden, where we produced Surface Savers for plants made from recycled plastic.
About 20 years ago, we entered into the pet industry. Pets have a variety of needs, that when fulfilled, help them lead the happiest and healthiest lives. We also discovered that there is just as strong of a need to meet the needs of a pet parent, and if we can do so through innovation and making the products environmentally friendly, then we feel like we have succeeded.

Q: Worldwise is very focused on sustainability and eco-friendly products. Tell us about this part of your business and why you moved in this direction.

Fick: The pet industry was growing at a rapid rate, however, there was an opportunity to not only make great products, but to do so while considering the impact on the environment. Over the years, Worldwise has carved out a leadership position with eco-friendly and sustainable products within the industry.
We began by creating products such as our organic catnip and our corrugated scratch block made from recycled cardboard. We were at the forefront of bringing memory foam beds made from reclaimed materials to the pet bedding market. Every product also meets or exceeds all applicable safety standards and has a guarantee of 100 percent consumer satisfaction prominently positioned on the front of our updated branding that will begin to hit the market mid-2014.

Q: What is a typical day for you?

Fick: The best aspect of being part of the WW team is that we are a smaller tight-knit group, not a multilayered organization with a lot of red tape. This affords me the opportunity to interact with most members of the team on a daily basis and I enjoy that. The team is comprised of professionals that are very good at what they do. They have a perspective and a voice, which ultimately leads to a highly creative environment that allows us to drive our brands and innovation to the market at an accelerated pace.

Q: What are your product and brand goals for 2014?

Fick: Our goals for 2014 are very bold. Twenty months ago, we developed our strategic plan for the future, with a target date of the 2014 Global Pet Expo as our launch pad for all of our new innovation, with [more than] 400 new products being unveiled. In addition, we will debut the newly updated Petlinks and SmartyKat brands, launch the new brand of TrustyPup,  as well as the worldwide launch of the comprehensive  Kathy Ireland “Loved Ones” Collection. This has been a herculean effort across the entire organization and we are excited to share it with our business partners.

Q: What is the vision for Worldwise going forward?

Fick: Our vision for the future is to be the market leader in our chosen market segments via best-in-class consumer insights, innovation, and clear and distinct branding. Our revenue and profit targets will be achieved via a combination of organic growth and acquisitions. We have very high expectations as you can see.

Q: What advice can you offer to those hoping to enter the pet industry?

Fick: Have a vision, build meaningful brands via innovation, and execute flawlessly.

Marketing to Reach the Millennial Generation

It’s coming, one of the largest changes shaping the marketing landscape.

It is expected that by 2018, the spending power of Millennials will surpass that of the Baby Boom generation. That means the teens and 20-something’s that make up the Millennial Generation will be influencing marketing in the pet industry.

In addition to this generation toting their smart phones and love of social networking sites, they are widely considered the most educated generation in American history, with the largest percentage attending college and graduate schools.

While many Millennials are still struggling to build a career for themselves, within a few years the majority will have reached stability and will be ready to spend. Now is the time to start marketing to them and building brand loyalty.

This is also a generation that favors individuality and a strong online presence, preferably with mobile and tablet-ready websites. They also want to engage technology and take advantage of applications and video to learn more about brands and products prior to purchase.

Despite their potential, there is a significant hurdle in reaching Millennials, because they generally dislike traditional advertising. They take advantage of technology, playing video games, watching television programs pre-recorded and streaming online through cable providers, and posting self-created videos online.

If a Millennial is interested in a product, they will research it before they buy, and will probably consult multiple sites, too. What that means for your advertising is that it must be authentic, interesting and not a hard sell.

Native advertising is a great way to accomplish these goals. It is simply providing content in the place that potential customers are already looking.

Online video is another great place to use native advertising. This is a technique the production company I manage, ReelPaws, uses every day on behalf of clients. Millennials are more comfortable watching videos online than on television, in fact one-third of them watch videos online more often than they do on an actual television.

There are video sharing sites springing up every day, but you can be most effective on YouTube, Instagram or Vine.  While YouTube videos are often longer, videos on Vine or Instagram are limited to a 15 and 6-second limit, respectively.

Try to make your videos creative and efficient, without making a hard sell for your product or service. Instead of trying to fit multiple products into one video, make multiple, short videos on each one. On YouTube, pay close attention to the thumbnail you select, because that’s your best chance to draw the viewer to click on our video.

When it comes to customer service, Millennials expect a slightly different experience than previous generations. They make their complaints or compliments known on social media, like Facebook, Twitter, some even go as far as make YouTube videos in response to a product. You must live in that space as well, and be ready to respond. Your message will not just reach the customer that started the conversation, but all of their friends or follower as well.

Millennials are a fickle, diverse bunch, and pride themselves on being unique. However, despite the difficulties of reaching them, your future as a company will depend on their money. Start marketing to them in the place where they spend their time and you will gain their loyalty.

Do it now and they will be your biggest brand advocates and customers in the years ahead.

The Next Generation In Providing an Exceptional Customer Experience

As a pet retailer or store manager, creating an exceptional customer experience for every two, or four-legged customer that walks in your door is of prime importance.

Although social media doesn’t serve your customers in a traditional face-to-face, or paw-to-paw, manner that may be more familiar, it is an opportunity to provide extraordinary customer service, build a deeper relationship with your customers and reach new customers in a different way.

Position yourself as more than just a business, but a passionate, trustworthy and solution-oriented resource that makes life better for pets and the people that love them.

With limited time and resources, how do pet retailers create, much less manage, a solid and consistent social media presence? Here are a few tips for getting started and staying on track.

Social media never sleeps. With information sharing happening 24/7/365, assign yourself “social media time” day or night to write content, post content or reply to posts.

Try to respond to posts or messages within a few hours, 24 hours at the most. Customers are trying to reach someone to share, engage or pose a question or concern.

Social posts are simply a new method to provide customers with attention, knowledge and a positive experience they associate with your business. By providing a fast response to both positive and negative posts, customers feel supported that you are handling their needs in an efficient manner, and the relationship will be strengthened.

Sniff out 30 minutes a day. Many store owners jump into social media, only to allow the management of this marketing effort cascade down the daily priority list. With the many responsibilities that come with managing your store, start small by devoting 30 minutes a day.

If time constraints and responsibilities hinder this ability, consider delegating social media upkeep to an employee or an outside contractor. To start, prioritize the types of content you want to feature, such as events, adoptions, new products, holidays, special sales and promotions, etc., and gather the photo and video assets you have to work into your content.

One great place to look for content is from distributors and manufactures. Many pet food manufactures have a plethora of articles about everything from nutrition, proper pet care and more, available for free on their website.

Visual-based content is predicted to dominate in 2014, so use it. In 2013, photos posted on Facebook receive 53 percent more likes than posts without. Tweets with images receive 18 percent more clicks that those without, 89 percent more favorites, and 150 percent more retweets.*

Stay focused, start small and invite engagement. No business dominates every social media platform, so if you move too fast, you may find yourself overwhelmed right out of the “crate.”  To start, choose 2 channels and commit to building consistent content with regular frequency.

With Facebook and Twitter, consider using a time-saving, low-cost software that automatically links content between the two platforms. In writing content, avoid overly hyping your products and services, as it is a potential turnoff, and use the 80/20 rule: Keep content 80 percent about your customers and information important to them, and 20 percent about your business, products and services.

Invite customers to post pictures or videos of their pet, create a poll and ask questions that encourage active participation.

Remember the basics, many retailers neglect to include essential information in their page profiles, such as website, phone number, address and map link, services provided, hours of operation and email.
*Source: Kim Garst, social media strategist and contributor for Huffington Post

– Erin Terjesen

 

Be Prepared to Take Advantage of Opportunities

Bad weather helps keep us on our preparedness toes. We don’t want to be without water, light, warmth, especially when the electricity goes out. So we prepare, or at least we know we should.

We put up extra food, have a stock of batteries and flash lights, or candles on hand, and make a pile of extra blankets and/or wood for the fireplace.

Think about how it feels to know you have those things ready and available. It’s a great feeling. You feel safe and secure. Because, being prepared helps ease your mind, and you know you can survive the storm.

You might even have some fun. A deck of cards, a board game, a favorite family book read aloud by candlelight, any of these might help to create a memory you and your kids keep as magical for the rest of your lives.

Do you have the same process in place for the “opportunity storms” that blow your way? Like, when an ideal advertising opportunity pops up at the last minute, or out of the blue a reporter calls to ask you about a current event, or trend related to your business.

Most pet professionals I connect with don’t, so they scramble to get the ad done, the fact sheet written, the keywords determined. It puts them in a panic, and they’re apt to feel like they’re losing ground, wasting money and sacrificing time.

So let’s shift that. Let’s go over the Opportunity Preparedness Checklist, in hopes this will ease your mind, help your business and give you some great exposure when the time comes.
This is what you will need to have:

1.    Your business logo ready and available in various sizes and formats.
2.    Your photo, with and without your pet(s), ready to email out at a moment’s notice.
3.    Ads in various sizes, including business card size, quarter, half and full page sizes. Also, you never know when you’ll be able to trade for ad space, or if you decide to advertise, you have something ready to use at your fingertips.
4.    A graphic artist you like and trust in place to alter and quickly improve your ads if need be.  This is one of those things that is vital to other things and can have a domino effect. Building a relationship with a reliable graphics person is a must.
5.    A list of keywords describing your business at the ready. You’ll use these terms in various ways, from website development and headline writing to crafting ad copy and preparing bios for you and/or your staff.
6.    A list of things to pay attention to whenever your business name is used, in order to keep your branding and message consistent. Include on this standard-use list: The colors you use; the logo you use; the proper slogan or selling-proposition line; the font you prefer; selected photos of you and your product(s) or site, all those things that, when used repeatedly, serve to remind clients and prospects of you and your business.

As you build this Opportunity-Storm Checklist you will add things you are asked for often, or wish you’d had quick access to. Much like assessing how to be yet better prepared before the next severe weather hits.

Get ready, because opportunity comes often, and all year-round. My wish for you is that it comes your way in great gusts and fevered flurries.

Are You Carrying the Right Product Mix?

There is definitely no shortage of food or supply lines that you could choose to carry in your store.  As a matter of fact, it can sometimes be overwhelming when trying to decide which brands to carry.

Overall as a basic principle, the brands in your store should be brands that are being asked for by name by your customers.  And, more importantly, those brands on your shelves should be making you a profit.  One caveat to this would be the loss leader, oftentimes it is a good practice to have brands that you price lower than your cost because they are traffic drivers.

You may not make a profit on the sale, but you are reaping the rewards of being able to sell that customer other products and potentially turning them into a loyal, repeat customer.

Another important element to product mix is to make sure that you have plenty of inventory on your shelves. According to the National Retail Federation, U.S. retailers lose $45 billion in sales from not having enough inventory in stock.

Today’s consumers expect to be able to walk into a store at any time and find the product that they are looking for.  Be sure you don’t miss out on that sale because chances are, if they were satisfied, they will return to your store again.

When evaluating which brands you want to carry, you should ask the vendor or distributor rep about the brands advertising activities as well as what consumer driving programs are in place.  You also want to make sure that you have the right brands that offer various solution-based formulas.  For example, weight conscious, skin/coat problems, grain free, limited ingredient diet, etc.

When it comes to pricing your product mix, be sure to analyze turns as much as you analyze margin.  The highest margin items are not always the best profit makers in your store.  Many people forget that inventory turns are just as important.  Take a look at the graphic below that explains the importance of inventory turns.

Aside from margin, turns, consumer programs, and inventory availability, be sure to also stay in touch with your local market and what trends, niches, or brand followings are emerging.  Local tastes, flavors, and preferences should always play a role in your product mix selection.

Updates to the Injurious Wildlife List Could Impact $100M in Trade

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing to issue a new rule that could add as many as five additional species of snake to the Injurious Wildlife List as defined under the “constrictor rule” of the Lacey Act.

The species under consideration include the reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, Beni anaconda and boa constrictor.

The United States Herpetoculture Alliance estimates that the species proposed for inclusion amount to an annual trade of $100 million in the U.S. each year, and is urging legal action against the new regulation out of fear that it will destroy the trade in such species.

“The reptile and pet trade associations cannot sit fat, dumb and happy while the rights of herpetoculturists are regulated into oblivion,” wrote the Herp Alliance on its website. “By the time the collective coma is shaken off, the days of breeding Burmese pythons, reticulated pythons and boa constrictors may be lost forever. It is the opinion of the U.S. Herpetoculture Alliance that the only real recourse is for one or both of the trade associations to file a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging the merits of the original ‘Constrictor Rule’ of 2012.”

The United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK), likewise, is blasting the proposed move as unfair to lawful breeders and the industry in which they ply their trade.

“This rule is an unnecessary federal intrusion into state wildlife management and misuse of the Lacey Act,” a posting on USARK’s website, said. “Listing of these snakes will create felons out of tens of thousands of pet owners, hobbyists and collectors, and will destroy small businesses across the country in states where there is zero likelihood of captive-bred snakes establishing themselves in the wild.”

Central to USARK’s argument is the contention that captive-bred snakes among the species listed are incapable of establishing themselves in the wild throughout most of the United States, and thus, could not be a threat to the public.

“There is absolutely no evidence showing these species to be a threat to public safety and no science to support the fact that these species can become injurious throughout the United States,” USARK asserted. “The only potentially habitable climate lies in extreme southern Florida, and the issue has been addressed locally by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.”

The proposed rule is expected to be finalized early in 2014.

– Dan Calabrese

The E-Commerce Debate

Taking the plunge and selling pet products online is theoretically the same business an established pet retailer is already in. You’re still selling the same products, and to many of the same people. It’s just that the marketing and delivery systems are different.

That’s the theory.

In reality, taking a brick-and-mortar pet retailer online can be like venturing into an entirely different world. Notions of visibility are totally different. Established concepts of merchandising are largely worthless. And there’s no such thing as a customer walking out of the store with merchandise in hand, a sale completed.

Yet with so many customers looking to make purchases online, most pet retailers recognize they are missing out on a huge market segment if they don’t offer products online. So how does a retailer who has succeeded for years using traditional methods, venture successfully into online merchandising?

Questions to Ask

According to Sheri Altman, president of Rural Hall, N.C.-based Altman Dedicated Direct, the first question should be whether the move really makes sense for a store’s larger business strategy.

“If it’s an independent retailer, they’re not going to become PetSmart and they shouldn’t try to be,” Altman said. “A lot of times in an industry, somebody is small and they look to the big players and say, ‘We should be like the big players.’ In this case, I don’t think that’s how they win, because the reason you shop at a smaller store is for other things. They need to capitalize on the value proposition of why people are coming to them.”

That would clearly include advice and personal service, which are obviously harder, although not impossible, to offer online. But for the retailer who has concluded that online is part of the strategy, Altman suggests thinking of new target markets that couldn’t be reached using the traditional retail model.

The biggest issue they could have, Altman said, is making the assumption that just putting up an online store means customers are going to come.

“They need to make sure they have sufficient funds, not only for building the site but for doing what’s necessary to get people to come to the site,” Altman said.

The two most effective methods, Altman said, are television and search marketing. But one is a lot more affordable if you can make it work, particularly through the use of Google Ad Words. Altman does not, however, recommend that e-commerce novices devise a Google Ad Words strategy without some professional help. Since advertisers pay either per impression or per click, the wrong strategy could yield lots of clicks but not enough sales to cover the costs, which are likely to go up once you’re full-fledged into e-commerce.

“The companies that do this morning, noon and night ensure that doesn’t happen,” Altman said. “They’ve got software that’s going to track on someone’s website the clicks that come in, and whether they turn into sales and the dollar value of those sales. Their software is going to manage that process and ensure that you’re not paying for clicks that don’t turn into sales.”

Get the Word Out

Social media advertising is another angle, and when paired with a Facebook page can form the basis of a successful strategy. But pet retailers who intend to rely heavily on their social media presence need a strategy to attract likes and followers, and that probably involves promotions in the physical store.

Bill Davis, a consultant with Maine-based Omni Channel Retailing, said retailers have to make sure they have the digital infrastructure necessary to support a robust e-commerce site.

“Online is more technology dependent, and that’s generally not a strength of most traditional retailers,” Davis said. “Also, retailers tend to isolate their sales channels and today they need to integrate them, which means bringing online in with their offline.”

Davis also recommends that retailers develop their online presence in bite-size chunks that can be accomplished in short periods of time.

“While building out the infrastructure takes time, try to avoid eight- to nine-month-long projects when possible,” Davis advised. “Focus on quick, one- to two-month cycles when feasible so you can show results and learn from them.”

Davis recommended that pet retailers study the practices of Home Depot, L.L. Bean, Lowe’s, Nordstrom and Staples to see who has done online retail  successfully. Pet retailers could face some unique challenges, such as obvious issues with shipping live animals or even very large bags of pet food.

Most importantly, Davis emphasized that online retailers should focus on integrating online sales into their overall sales mix, rather than seeing it as an isolated and unrelated part of their business.

“Think through what your goals are, and why, as well as your strengths and weaknesses as a retailer,” Davis said. “Planning is critical, as you don’t want to fire and then try to aim afterwards.”

Dan Calabrese

 

Why Should Retailers Attend the Global Pet Expo

I have been attending the Global Pet Expo as far back as the early ‘80s. Back then it was called the APPMA Trade Show, American Pet Product Manufacturers Association, and was designed to showcase manufacturer’s new products to their distributor network and retailers were not allowed to attend the show.

That was back then, nowadays, with the advent of market globalization and the consolidation trends that started in the ‘90s, the APPMA had to adjust with the changing times. In 2005, the APPMA and PIDA Pet Shows were combined and rebranded as the Global Pet Expo. Now, any enterprising retailer can attend and take advantage of the largest international pet trade show in North America allowing them to network with the principals of the vendors whose products they stock in their stores.

When attending the Global Pet Expo, you’ll find this show is where new and also established vendors spend their money to launch and promote their lines or new products.

You will also see there is a large international presence of foreign manufacturers from Europe and Asia displaying their wares.

Regional shows have gotten better and better, but company principals are often not present. At the Global Pet Expo, you will find out there is nothing quite like visiting with owners and CEOs of the various companies who design and distribute the products you buy.  It’s great to see the new products and to meet people, but why not come prepared to take real advantage of a show like this one? This is the perfect opportunity to discuss your business with the owner or CEO of a company, or their national sales manager. There is no better time than the Global Pet Expo to meet this many people, all in one place, who are so important to your business.

Bring a list of questions or issues you may have with specific vendor’s products or services. This is also the perfect time to share your calendar of events and promotions that you have planned throughout the year. Why not have organized written programs with associated costs for participation, like discounts and vendor support requests for your anniversary promotion, customer appreciation promotions and emails, or mailers and TV advertising opportunities?

A complete, “ready to go program” in print to hand out at your meetings will increase your chances of success. You will find that if you have well thought out programs, most vendors you approach will treat your proposal seriously.

If they feel you have done the research and they will get a fair return on the dollars or discounts requested for their cooperative participation in your programs, most will help and support your promotions and advertising potential.

Don’t forget your distributors, as most of them will be attending this show as well. You should consider working with them before, during and after the show, since they will be a major component to all of your year-long promotional programs.

One important tip, start taking care of business on the first day as the exhibitors are ready and willing to talk. Most attendees say they only want to walk the show the first day. It is the perfect day to get quality time with the manufacturer’s principals and sales managers, because many may not be there on the last day of the show.

This is a large show, so don’t wait to get started or you will be rushed on the last day. Use the last day to follow-up and finalize any business previously discussed.

Why Retailers Need to Network

In the 5 years of running Long Island Pet Professionals, we have had a wonderful turnout of pet professionals attend our networking events and seminars, but I have to say the pet pros we see least at events are pet store and pet boutique owners.

It has been something I could never understand, here you have a great pet boutique or store, and we have tremendous expert speakers here to teach you and help you grow your business.

Yet many of them still don’t attend. Not to mention the amount of new people you will meet and that will then know about your store and what services you offer, it’s a win-win. I get that as a storeowner it is hard to physically leave your store for every event, but if there were an opportunity very close to you, wouldn’t it behoove you to leave for a few hours to attend?

You never know who you might meet that could help your store, your bottom line, and you may actually learn about a new product, service or other pet professional that you want to partner with, have cross promotions with, feature in your store, etc.

I do encourage pet professionals to attend the big trade shows when they can, but to also get out there and network in your own chamber of commerce or business associations. Unless you’re completely happy with your salary, your store’s yearly income and just have no desire to grow, networking should be a big part of your marketing plan. Also, attending retailer expos, trade shows are a must if you want to stay alive and competitive and become that “go-to” community pet supply store.

Advertising, hiring a PR person and social media are all great ways to promote your pet boutique or supply store, but in my opinion if you don’t actually get out there and meet new peers, how will you grow your network?

For 2014, why not make it a goal of yours to attend at least two local networking events or retail expos, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.  Two events for a year are not that many, stop making excuses and get out there! You are bound to see many new pet products and you will meet pet professionals that want to meet you too.

As a pet retailer I am sure you have you noticed by now how many other stores that carry pet products that are not pet stores. Do you want to grow your business or close up shop?

With the pet industry booming across the board, it is important to stay competitive, offer items and services in your retail store that the other stores can’t compete with. Often a great new pet product made by a local person, that doesn’t necessarily have or want a manufacturers rep or distributor, will be at a networking event hoping to meet store owners like you. You may never meet that person or see their product if you don’t leave your store.

It is great to hear from retailers after they have attended one of our networking events that they are now carrying another members product that the met at the event. Or how they don’t know why they didn’t start coming to events sooner and that they learned so much.  Just because you have been running your store for 10 or more years, doesn’t mean you won’t learn, or you know everything about the pet industry and products out there.

As the saying goes, “you can teach an old dog new tricks,” so get out there, network, attend a trade show you have been meaning to get to, see what is new, you may just be surprised what you find and learn, and your customers will appreciate it, too.

Getting Into the Mobile Marketing Groove

Customer retention is extremely important to small businesses.  The cost to retain a current customer is seven times less than trying to obtain a new one.

Mobile marketing is the latest technology that supports your customer retention initiatives and it also increases the number of store visits your customer makes.  Companies both large and small are incorporating mobile marketing into their marketing plans.

In the U.S., smartphones are owned by over 125 million people.  And, this year more than 50 percent of adult internet users, or approximately 102 million people will redeem a digital coupon while shopping.

Traditional means of communicating offers out to customers, like un-targeted couponing, usually show a redemption rate of around 1 to 2 percent, while mobile redemptions are 17 to 30 percent.  This is because you are hyper-targeting your customer that has opted to receive a message from your store.

This year, mobile is slated to frog leap the desktop computer when it comes to internet use so now is the time to get your store on a plan.  And, if you needed another reason to be persuaded, mobile marketing is easy and cheap.

There are a few different ways to use mobile- some companies design apps while others are prospering with simple SMS (text message) programs.  When choosing a program that is right for your store, you will want to make sure it supports your initiatives.

You want an easy to use program that allows you to communicate offers to your consumers thus driving them into your store more frequently.  You will also want to make sure that the program does not “spam” your customers or become bothersome to them. Typically, you do not want to send more than one text message a week to your customer.

Once you have a mobile marketing partner selected, you will start off by advertising the program at the register, on your website and social media, as well as any print marketing that you are doing.  Most importantly, be sure your employees understand the program and are talking about it with every customer.  They should be letting the customer know that they will receive un-advertised special deals and that you will not be spamming their phone.

To get your mobile club started, you typically offer a one-time deal to your customer to get them to opt into your mobile program-something like 10 percent off their purchase. This is the time referred to as building your club and is thought of as your investment period.

Ongoing, you will now need to communicate store offers no more than weekly and no less than three times a month. Mobile works best when it is used on a regular basis.  You want to keep your store top of mind with your customers and communicating out weekly has been found to be the best way to do this.  Keep in mind that your weekly store deal does not always have to be a discount off of product; you can also offer a discount on services like grooming or photos.

In the end, one of the most important things to understand is that your mobile program will take time to build, but if it is done right, it will allow you to easily compete with the big box stores.  You are investing time and money into this so make sure you are placing the importance on it that it deserves, and also make sure your employees understand the importance as well.

Mobile is a necessity in order to compete, and most of your customers will welcome it.

Updates to Animal Welfare Act, Pets on Trains

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that it will expand enforcement of the 1966 Animal Welfare Act to now require licensing and inspection of breeders who sell animals online to pet retailers. Prior to this move, breeders who sell exclusively online were exempt from inspection and licensing requirements.

The enforcement move will cover all breeders who sell dogs, cats and rabbits online and own more than four female breeding animals.

USDA estimates that at least 2,600 dog breeders will be affected by the decision, along with 325 cat breeders and 75 rabbit breeders.

One purported benefit of the change as cited by USDA is to reduce incidents of sick animals acquired unwittingly by consumers. In the new guidelines issued by the agency, regulators said: “When breeding operations for which regulatory oversight is insufficient fail to adequately provide veterinary care for their animals, the buyer may subsequently incur greater costs associated with providing that care because needed care has been delayed. The rule will benefit buyers of animals by providing regulatory oversight to ensure that breeders provide necessary veterinary care. Animals can carry zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transmitted between, or are shared by animals and humans). The possibility of an animal carrying a zoonotic disease is reduced with adequate veterinary care, including vaccinations. To the extent that improved oversight reduces the likelihood of pet-to-human transmission of zoonotic diseases such as rabies, the public as a whole will benefit from the rule.”

In other news, a bipartisan collection of congressman is sponsoring a bill that would allow, for the first time, Amtrak passengers to bring their pets aboard on specially designated cars.

The Pets on Trains Act, also known as HR 2066, is sponsored by U.S. Reps. Jeff Denhem (R-Calf.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Michael Grimm (R-NY) and John Campbell (R-Calif.). If HR 2066 passes, requirements would include:

• Amtrak must designate a “pet car” on each train that has more than one car.

• The trip in which pets are transported could not be more than 750 miles.

• Pets must be crated and stowed in accordance with Amtrak baggage policies.

If the bill becomes law, pet retailers could conceivably take advantage of it as an opportunity to step up sales of pet carriers.

“The pet industry embraces Pets on Trains legislation because we understand the benefits traveling together has to pet owners, as well as the pets themselves,” Mike Canning, president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, said. “Legislation like this also brings together two powerhouse industries as economic generators, and will have a positive effect on the economies of cities along the rail route.”

– Dan Calabrese

In-Store Demos Can Mean Fuller Shopping Carts

In-store product demonstrations can take the promotion of your merchandise to a whole new level. It’s one thing to have a product visible on a shelf. It’s another thing to have a knowledgeable person offering samples and explaining to customers exactly what the value of a product is.

But in-store demos are the sort of thing that can reap huge rewards, or can go very wrong depending on how it is done, and especially whether employees or store management are really prepared and bought into the idea of having the demos going on.

Jennifer Houston is vice president of client services at Attack Marketing, which conducts in-store demos for a variety of different retailers. According to Houston, in-store demos can build customer loyalty to product brands as well as to retailers themselves, if the engagement with consumers is approached effectively. It starts with understanding how to establish a meaningful engagement in the first place.

“We don’t want people who have an engagement time of one or two seconds, but if you have someone who can engage them more extensively, even if we can get that up to 30 to 45 seconds, then you would hope a sales comes from that engagement with them,” she said.

Getting people to give you their time means offering them something of value, and that is more than just product samples. Often it is information and a greater understanding of the product itself.

“People love to have free treats for their dogs,” Houston said. “There was a company doing a demo that gave me a sample bag and a coupon for $5 off my bag, and I was hooked. I was a customer for life. It’s about people who like your dog, and can answer questions about your dog. These people are trained, at least ours were, to answer these questions. They become these trusted advisors, and people look forward to seeing them in the store. That builds loyalty to the brand. You get to know the person that’s in there, and you look forward to seeing them on the weekend.”

There is probably no establishment that has done in-store demos more successfully than Costco, which has turned them into a destination event. And Houston said that while they may spend a lot of time giving things away for free, the end result is fuller baskets for Costco shoppers.

“People know that if they go to Coscto on the weekend, they can pretty much walk around the store and eat a meal,” Houston said. “So now people choose their dates on the basis of when those road shows or demos are going to be there. If you can create something where there are representatives and people know it’s going to happen, their basket will be more full.”

But, a problem when conducting in-store demos can be conflict between those staging the demos and everyday employees who are just trying to do their jobs, and sometimes find the demos to be a distraction.

“The consumer loves it,” Houston said. “Most of the time you see samples and the things you get, and people are excited about it. But it’s extra work for the employee.”

So how do you get employees to buy in to the idea that it’s a good idea to have in-store demos, even if they perceive it as interfering with their ability to do their jobs?

“It’s a very hard question to answer, because the answer I would give is, in a very high-level way, if we have these demonstrations and our sales go up, our store is more successful and we have more jobs for a longer period of time. But to tell that to an employee that’s making minimum wage, do they really care?”

Houston speculates that pet retailers might be able to learn from the consumer electronics industry, which is known for giving sales incentives to employees and thus tying their own success to the sales performance of the store. That, in turn, allows them to see more of a value in having dealing with a “hassle” like in-store demos.

“They put in incentives for people who are there to push the equipment after the demos are gone,” Houston said. “That doesn’t happen much in retail overall.”

Pet retailers can promote in-store demos in a variety of ways, using social media, traditional advertising, in-store posters and word of mouth. After a while, successful demos on days when the store has heavy traffic can become part of a shopper’s routine. While they probably can’t consume an entire meal at a pet retailer like they would at Costco, and their dogs are likely not going to be satisfied with treat samples, the demos can serve as an ongoing source of information and education that will help a shopper associate the retailer with the knowledge they need to care for their pets in the best way possible.

That, if done right, carries the reward of loyal shoppers for pet retailers.

Dan Calabrese

Winter Weather Nightmare for Pet Retailers

There are a lot of difficult decisions a small business owner has to make when running their business.

This winter, one of those decisions has been a lot tougher for pet retailers in especially colder climates – to close, or not to close.

“It is one of the hardest decision I have to make in the winter,” Heidi Neal, owner of Loyal Biscuit Co. in Maine, said. “We don’t want people out driving in it and we tend to look at what the other retail stores near us are doing. Employee safety is number one, but you also want to be there for your customers if they are out of dog food, but you are also hoping they are not out and about, because it is dangerous out there.”

Neal’s comments about deciding whether or not to close her three locations, came Wednesday after Mother Nature dumped inches of snow and ice across the Northeast. While driving to one of her locations she decided it was too treacherous and made the call to shut the stores. She announced it on her company’s Facebook page.

“Good Morning LBC Fans! We have made the decision to close for the day due to the snow. I started towards Belfast for the day and it is piling up fast and expected to last all day, I don’t want my staff, or my customers, out in this. Please stay warm and safe and we will see you all tomorrow!”

Afterward, she explained to Pet Age, “I always try to look at the current status,  and the radar. All of New England is covered. Even if they could have gotten there, they wouldn’t have been able to get home.  There was just no way.”

In the four years of owning the store, this has been the worst winter, she said.

“We live on the coast and are secluded in our harbor,” she explained. “We tend to run warmer than other places in the state when they get snow we rain or slush. And it is very functionable. This year is different. There is a lot  more snow than we had in the last four years and they have been big storms. It hasn’t been a couple inches here or there. It’s been 10 inches per storm. For us, that is a lot.”

During the previous three years, she has only had to close her stores once per season, and closed early a few times because of snow. This year, however, is a different story.

“We closed completely two times already, opened late once, which we have never done and closed early three or four times at this point and it’s only the beginning of February, and we have two months to go,” she said.

How does this impact her stores’  bottom line?

“So far it hasn’t been as bad as anticipated,” Neal said. “Everyone knows the storm is possibly coming, and they come in the day before and stock up. The day after we are closed tend to be a better day than average. It impacts sales for sure. But, overall we see a bumb the day before and the day after.”

And, if they had opened, it may not have been worth risking everyone’s safety.

“If we had been open it would have been so slow,” she said. “We wouldn’t have done enough sales to make it worth it in terms of money. But, it’s still hard, because we want to be open and there for our customers.”

 

 

 

 

In-Store Displays Are Critical to Sales

Merchandising drives sales. If you advertise, discount and promote an item will the consumer buy it? The answer is, yes. But, only if you address two important factors:  What is the benefit to your customer and is there perceived value?

The most important requirement of any display is that it projects the retailer’s confidence in the products and a successful outcome for the consumer. A display won’t sell confidence with one or two pieces on the shelf.

The old adage of, “volume is validity” is very true when creating any display. Keep in mind that “volume” can be as little as a dozen items.  End-cap displays or pallet displays are also great to bring in extra sales, but even a small shelf display, if done properly will significantly increase consumer purchases.

When developing your display strategy, consider these three consumer buying questions:

What is the product appeal? (Brand, style, function?)

The average consumer buys because they want to fulfill a need or requirement and they’ve come to your store looking for a solution, so use key items that will fulfill their needs. As an example, if you’re an aquarium store, you might simply design a small in-line shelf display for solving water quality problems. The display will appeal to the majority of your customers since water quality is such an important aspect of aquarium keeping.

Why should I buy?  (How will these products make my hobby easier and more enjoyable?)

This is where signage becomes important.

Address the assets of the products in simple concise wording. As an example, if you have designed a water quality display, make a chart that shows various usages like desired pH, ammonia or phosphate levels that are achievable, etc.

Also design a header-sign to define that it is a water quality center which explains the overall reason for the display. Whether it is a water quality display or a flea and tick display, be sure to supply a header-sign to draw the consumer’s attention, then a secondary sign such as chart of usage or bullet point’s listing features and benefits.

What’s it worth? (Subconscious value vs. price judgment?)

It is important to know the retail value of a product. Think about all aspects of the product before setting the retail price. Can the product be explained to the consumer as a necessary item? Will it solve a problem? Is the product competitively priced? Which category does it fit into or is it unique? It is these combined aspects of the product that will determine the margin and suggested price.

The retailer’s cost isn’t the important issue here as good margins can be made on many items that serve the need and are priced based on convenience to the consumer. Price is important, but it isn’t necessary to show it on the signage. Information is what sells the product; the hobbyist will seek out the price if their interest has been engaged.

Most products already have your pricing on the packaging and this also allows for different product pricing within the display. On the other hand, large displays such as a stack of complete aquarium kits will do better by grabbing the attention of the consumer using price signage.

It is very important to change your displays monthly to draw customers back into your store. By working with your distributor on added value or discount programs it is easy to fund your display efforts.

Most distributors are happy to participate in a well thought out promotional program.

Remember, if you solve your customer’s problems or needs, they will recommend your store when talking to friends and fellow hobbyists.

– RD Webster

Being a Technology Resource

Technology trends are booming in popularity in the pet space for a good reason. They make life easier, help us streamline routines, reduce stress and maximize each minute of the day.

Take into consideration that 90 percent of pet owners surveyed by Petfinder.com last year said they consider their pet a family member and three out of four feel guilty and worry about leaving pets home alone while at work or traveling and you find a pet-centered customer base that is looking for technology that not only makes life easier, but also helps keeps pets safe, healthy and happy, even when we can’t be at home.

Driven by innovation, increasing affordability and consumer demand, high-tech gadgets and services deliver peace-of-mind solutions to pet lovers that can have a positive effect on their pet’s health. Pet retailers have an opportunity to become a technology resource to their customers.

Interestingly, companies not traditionally known for catering to pets and their people are recognizing the huge marketing opportunities in reaching the pet owner audience, and are finding ways to position their state-of-the-art products and services in pet-centric ways.

One year after launching XFINITY Home, a broadband and cloud-based home automation service available to Comcast subscribers, customers shared stories with the company about how they use home automation as a solution to stay connected with their pets, in addition to their home and family. As a result, Comcast is marketing the service directly to pet owners where their service is offered.

Retailers take note. If large companies like Comcast are marketing high-tech gadgets to pet parents, why shouldn’t you? Make pet care more convenient for your customers by offering them automated and technology driven products for their homes and pets. If a customer walks in with a smartphone in hand, you can be sure they’ll embrace any pet technology that will simplify their lives.

For example, the customer purchasing that 20-pound bag of premium pet food in your store might also benefit from an automatic feeder to manage their pet’s portions and feeding time.
In addition to automatic feeders, high-tech products can also include, treat dispensers and water fountains as well as automatic litter boxes that clean themselves, toys that play with pets, like FroliCat, GPS devices to track pets’ location and activity, like Tagg–The Pet Tracker, lighted or glow in the dark collars, like Glowdoggie and even nano-technology based beds, apparel and accessories, like dgspetproducts.com.

Here are a few simple tips retailers can implement to spotlight high-tech solutions into your retail pet business.

Consider creating a pet technology section in your store. Having a specific, designated area to highlight new technology driven devices and products all in one place. This can be more effective than having these items spread categorically across the store.

Request vendor support for demos and employee education. Electronic pet product manufacturers such as PetSafe provide ongoing retail support and training.

Allow staff to sample and use products themselves at home. This way they can speak first hand to the conveniences and easily show customers how to assemble or operate them.

If you have an in-store pet, have them wearing or using the products. Having working products on the floor helps the customer envision how they’d be used by their pet.

Market your pet tech products to your customer base using technology yourself. People who embrace social media and use smartphones or tablets will be more likely to want to know about high-tech pet solutions.

– Kristen Levine, president and founder of Fetching Communications

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